Leaders of Industry

Inventors and Producers

By Samuel Smiles

James Watt

Le travail et la Science sont desormais les maitres du monde.”—De Salvandy

“Deduct all that men of the humbler classes have done for England in the way of inventions only, and see where she would have been but for them.”—Arthur Helps


One of the most strongly-marked features of the English people is their spirit of industry, standing out prominent and distinct in their past history, and as strikingly characteristic of them now as at any former period.  It is this spirit, displayed by the commons of England, which has laid the foundations and built up the industrial greatness of the empire.  This vigorous growth of the nation has been mainly the result of the free energy of individuals, and it has been contingent upon the number of hands and minds from time to time actively employed within it, whether as cultivators of the soil, producers of articles of utility, contrivers of tools and machines, writers of books, or creators of works of art.  And while this spirit of active industry has been the vital principle of the nation, it has also been its saving and remedial one, counteracting from time to time the effects of errors in our laws and imperfections in our constitution.

The career of industry which the nation has pursued, has also proved its best education.  As steady application to work is the healthiest training for every individual, so is it the best discipline of a state.  Honorable industry travels the same road with duty; and Providence has closely linked both with happiness.  The gods, says the poet, have placed labor and toil on the way leading to the Elysian fields.  Certain it is that no bread eaten by man is so sweet as that earned by his own labor, whether bodily or mental.  By labor the earth has been subdued, and man redeemed from barbarism; nor has a single step in civilization been made without it.  Labor is not only a necessity and a duty, but a blessing:  only the idler feels it to be a curse.  The duty of work is written on the sinews and muscles of the limbs, the mechanism of the hand, the nerves and lobes of the brain—the sum of whose healthy action is satisfaction and enjoyment.  In the school of labor is taught the best practical wisdom; nor is a life of manual employment, as we shall hereafter find, incompatible with high mental culture.

Hugh Miller, than whom none knew better the strength and the weakness belonging to the lot of labor, stated the result of his experience to be, that Work, even the hardest, is full of pleasure and materials for self-improvement.  He held honest labor to be the best of teachers, and that the school of toil is the noblest of schools—save only the Christian one,--that it is a school in which the ability of being useful is imparted, the spirit of independence learnt, and the habit of persevering effort acquired.  He was even of opinion that the training of the mechanic,--by the exercise which it gives to his observant faculties, from his daily dealing with things actual and practical, and the close experience of life which he acquires,--better fits him for picking his way along the journey of life, and is more favorable to his growth as a Man, emphatically speaking, than the training afforded by any other condition.

The array of great names which we have already cursorily cited, of men springing from the ranks of the industrial classes, who have achieved distinction in various walks of life—in science, commerce, literature, and art—shows that at all events the difficulties interposed by poverty and labor are not insurmountable.  As respects the great contrivances and inventions which have conferred so much power and wealth upon the nation, it is unquestionable that for the greater part of them we have been indebted to men of the humblest rank.  Deduct what they have done in this particular line of action, and it will be found that very little indeed remains for other men to have accomplished.

Inventors have set in motion some of the greatest industries of the world.  To them society owes many of its chief necessaries, comforts, and luxuries; and by their genius and labor daily life has been rendered in all respects more easy as well as enjoyable.  Our food, our clothing, the furniture of our homes, the glass which admits the light to our dwellings at the same time that it excludes the cold, the gas which illuminates our streets, our means of locomotion by land and by sea, the tools by which our various articles of necessity and luxury are fabricated, have been the result of the labor and ingenuity of many men and many minds.  Mankind at large are all the happier for such inventions, and are every day reaping the benefit of them in an increase of individual well-being as well as of public enjoyment.

Though the invention of the working steam-engine—the king of machines—belongs, comparatively speaking, to our own epoch, the idea of it was born many centuries ago.  Like other contrivances and discoveries, it was effected step by step—one man transmitting the result of his labors, at the time apparently useless, to his successors, who took it up and carried it forward another stage,-- the prosecution of the inquiry extending over many generations.  Thus the idea promulgated by Hero of Alexandria was never altogether lost; but, like the grain of wheat hid in the hand of the Egyptian mummy, it sprouted and again grew vigorously when brought into the full light of modern science.  The steam-engine was nothing, however, until it emerged from the state of theory, and was taken in hand by practical mechanics; and what a noble story of patient, laborious investigation, of difficulties encountered and overcome by heroic industry, does not that marvelous machine tell of!  It is indeed, in itself, a monument of the power of self-help in man.  Grouped around it we find Savary, the military engineer; Newcomen, the Dartmouth blacksmith; Cawley, the glazier; Potter, the engine-boy; Smeaton, the civil engineer; and, towering above all, the laborious, patient, never-tiring James Watt, the mathematical-instrument maker.

Watt was one of the most industrious of men; and the story of his life proves, what all experience confirms, that it is not the man of the greatest natural vigor and capacity who achieves the highest results, but he who employs his powers with the greatest industry and the most carefully disciplined skill—the skill that comes by labor, application, and experience.  Many men in his time knew far more than Watt, but none labored so assiduously as he did to turn all that he did know to useful practical purposes.  He was, above all things, most persevering in the pursuit of facts.  He cultivated carefully that habit of active attention on which all the higher working qualities of the mind mainly depend.  Indeed, Mr. Edgeworth entertained the opinion, that the difference of intellect in men depends more upon the early cultivation of this HABIT OF ATTENTION, than upon any great disparity between the powers of one individual and another.

Even when a boy, Watt found science in his toys.  The quadrants lying about his father’s carpenter’s shop led him to the study of optics and astronomy; his ill health induced him to pry into the secrets of physiology; and his solitary walks through the country attracted him to the study of botany and history.  While carrying on the business of a mathematical-instrument maker, he received an order to build an organ; and, though without an ear for music, he undertook the study of harmonics, and successfully constructed the instrument.  And, in like manner, when the little model of Newcomen’s steam-engine, belonging to the University of Glasgow, was placed in his hands to repair, he forthwith set himself to learn all that was then known about heat, evaporation, and condensation,--at the same time plodding his way in mechanics and the science of construction,--the results of which he at length embodied in his condensing steam-engine.

For ten years he went on contriving and inventing—with little hope to cheer him, and with few friends to encourage him.  He went on, meanwhile, earning bread for his family by making and selling quadrants, making and mending fiddles, flutes, and musical instruments; measuring mason-work, surveying roads, superintending the construction of canals, or doing anything that turned up, and offered a prospect of honest gain.  At length, Watt found a fit partner in another eminent leader of industry— Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham; a skilful, energetic, and far-seeing man, who vigorously undertook the enterprise of introducing the condensing-engine into general use as a working power; and the success of both is now matter of history.

Many skilful inventors have from time to time added new power to the steam-engine; and, by numerous modifications, rendered it capable of being applied to nearly all the purposes of manufacture--driving machinery, impelling ships, grinding corn, printing books, stamping money, hammering, planing, and turning iron; in short, of performing every description of mechanical labor where power is required.  One of the most useful modifications in the engine was that devised by Trevithick, and eventually perfected by George Stephenson and his son, in the form of the railway locomotive, by which social changes of immense importance have been brought about, of even greater consequence, considered in their results on human progress and civilization, than the condensing-engine of Watt.

One of the first grand results of Watt’s invention,--which placed an almost unlimited power at the command of the producing classes,--was the establishment of the cotton-manufacture.  The person most closely identified with the foundation of this great branch of industry was unquestionably Sir Richard Arkwright, whose practical energy and sagacity were perhaps even more remarkable than his mechanical inventiveness.  His originality as an inventor has indeed been called in question, like that of Watt and Stephenson.  Arkwright probably stood in the same relation to the spinning-machine that Watt did to the steam-engine and Stephenson to the locomotive.  He gathered together the scattered threads of ingenuity which already existed, and wove them, after his own design, into a new and original fabric.  Though Lewis Paul, of Birmingham, patented the invention of spinning by rollers thirty years before Arkwright, the machines constructed by him were so imperfect in their details, that they could not be profitably worked, and the invention was practically a failure.  Another obscure mechanic, a reed-maker of Leigh, named Thomas Highs, is also said to have invented the water-frame and spinning-jenny; but they, too, proved unsuccessful.

When the demands of industry are found to press upon the resources of inventors, the same idea is usually found floating about in many minds;--such has been the case with the steam-engine, the safety-lamp, the electric telegraph, and other inventions.  Many ingenious minds are found laboring in the throes of invention, until at length the master mind, the strong practical man, steps forward, and straightway delivers them of their idea, applies the principle successfully, and the thing is done.  Then there is a loud outcry among all the smaller contrivers, who see themselves distanced in the race; and hence men such as Watt, Stephenson, and Arkwright, have usually to defend their reputation and their rights as practical and successful inventors.

Richard Arkwright, like most of our great mechanics, sprang from the ranks.  He was born in Preston in 1732.  His parents were very poor, and he was the youngest of thirteen children.  He was never at school:  the only education he received he gave to himself; and to the last he was only able to write with difficulty.  When a boy, he was apprenticed to a barber, and after learning the business, he set up for himself in Bolton, where he occupied an underground cellar, over which he put up the sign, “Come to the subterraneous barber—he shaves for a penny.”  The other barbers found their customers leaving them, and reduced their prices to his standard, when Arkwright, determined to push his trade, announced his determination to give “A clean shave for a halfpenny.”  After a few years he quitted his cellar, and became an itinerant dealer in hair.  At that time wigs were worn, and wig-making formed an important branch of the barbering business.  Arkwright went about buying hair for the wigs.  He was accustomed to attend the hiring fairs throughout Lancashire resorted to by young women, for the purpose of securing their long tresses; and it is said that in negotiations of this sort he was very successful.  He also dealt in a chemical hair dye, which he used adroitly, and thereby secured a considerable trade.  But he does not seem, notwithstanding his pushing character, to have done more than earn a bare living.

The fashion of wig-wearing having undergone a change, distress fell upon the wig-makers; and Arkwright, being of a mechanical turn, was consequently induced to turn machine inventor or “conjurer,” as the pursuit was then popularly termed.  Many attempts were made about that time to invent a spinning-machine, and our barber determined to launch his little bark on the sea of invention with the rest.  Like other self-taught men of the same bias, he had already been devoting his spare time to the invention of a perpetual-motion machine; and from that the transition to a spinning-machine was easy.  He followed his experiments so assiduously that he neglected his business, lost the little money he had saved, and was reduced to great poverty.  His wife—for he had by this time married—was impatient at what she conceived to be a wanton waste of time and money, and in a moment of sudden wrath she seized upon and destroyed his models, hoping thus to remove the cause of the family privations.  Arkwright was a stubborn and enthusiastic man, and he was provoked beyond measure by this conduct of his wife, from whom he immediately separated.

In traveling about the country, Arkwright had become acquainted with a person named Kay, a clockmaker at Warrington, who assisted him in constructing some of the parts of his perpetual-motion machinery.  It is supposed that he was informed by Kay of the principle of spinning by rollers; but it is also said that the idea was first suggested to him by accidentally observing a red-hot piece of iron become elongated by passing between iron rollers.  However this may be, the idea at once took firm possession of his mind, and he proceeded to devise the process by which it was to be accomplished, Kay being able to tell him nothing on this point.  Arkwright now abandoned his business of hair collecting, and devoted himself to the perfecting of his machine, a model of which, constructed by Kay under his directions, he set up in the parlor of the Free Grammar School at Preston.  Being a burgess of the town, he voted at the contested election at which General Burgoyne was returned; but such was his poverty, and such the tattered state of his dress, that a number of persons subscribed a sum sufficient to have him put in a state fit to appear in the poll-room.  The exhibition of his machine in a town where so many workpeople lived by the exercise of manual labor proved a dangerous experiment; ominous growlings were heard outside the school-room from time to time, and Arkwright,--remembering the fate of Kay, who was mobbed and compelled to fly from Lancashire because of his invention of the fly-shuttle, and of poor Hargreaves, whose spinning-jenny had been pulled to pieces only a short time before by a Blackburn mob,--wisely determined on packing up his model and removing to a less dangerous locality.  He went accordingly to Nottingham, where he applied to some of the local bankers for pecuniary assistance; and the Messrs. Wright consented to advance him a sum of money on condition of sharing in the profits of the invention.  The machine, however, not being perfected so soon as they had anticipated, the bankers recommended Arkwright to apply to Messrs. Strutt and Need, the former of whom was the ingenious inventor and patentee of the stocking-frame.  Mr. Strutt at once appreciated the merits of the invention, and a partnership was entered into with Arkwright, whose road to fortune was now clear.  The patent was secured in the name of “Richard Arkwright, of Nottingham, clockmaker,” and it is a circumstance worthy of note, that it was taken out in 1769, the same year in which Watt secured the patent for his steam-engine.  A cotton-mill was first erected at Nottingham, driven by horses; and another was shortly after built, on a much larger scale, at Cromford, in Derbyshire, turned by a water-wheel, from which circumstance the spinning-machine came to be called the water-frame.

Arkwright’s labors, however, were, comparatively speaking, only begun.  He had still to perfect all the working details of his machine.  It was in his hands the subject of constant modification and improvement, until eventually it was rendered practicable and profitable in an eminent degree.  But success was only secured by long and patient labor:  for some years, indeed, the speculation was disheartening and unprofitable, swallowing up a very large amount of capital without any result.  When success began to appear more certain, then the Lancashire manufacturers fell upon Arkwright’s patent to pull it in pieces, as the Cornish miners fell upon Boulton and Watt to rob them of the profits of their steam-engine.  Arkwright was even denounced as the enemy of the working people; and a mill which he built near Chorley was destroyed by a mob in the presence of a strong force of police and military.  The Lancashire men refused to buy his materials, though they were confessedly the best in the market.  Then they refused to pay patent-right for the use of his machines, and combined to crush him in the courts of law.  To the disgust of right-minded people, Arkwright’s patent was upset.  After the trial, when passing the hotel at which his opponents were staying, one of them said, loud enough to be heard by him, “Well, we’ve done the old shaver at last;” to which he coolly replied, “Never mind, I’ve a razor left that will shave you all.”  He established new mills in Lancashire, Derbyshire, and at New Lanark, in Scotland.  The mills at Cromford also came into his hands at the expiry of his partnership with Strutt, and the amount and the excellence of his products were such, that in a short time he obtained so complete a control of the trade, that the prices were fixed by him, and he governed the main operations of the other cotton-spinners.

Arkwright was a man of great force of character, indomitable courage, much worldly shrewdness, with a business faculty almost amounting to genius.  At one period his time was engrossed by severe and continuous labor, occasioned by the organizing and conducting of his numerous manufactories, sometimes from four in the morning till nine at night.  At fifty years of age he set to work to learn English grammar, and improve himself in writing and orthography.  After overcoming every obstacle, he had the satisfaction of reaping the reward of his enterprise.  Eighteen years after he had constructed his first machine, he rose to such estimation in Derbyshire that he was appointed High Sheriff of the county, and shortly after George III. conferred upon him the honor of knighthood.  He died in 1792.  Be it for good or for evil, Arkwright was the founder in England of the modern factory system, a branch of industry which has unquestionably proved a source of immense wealth to individuals and to the nation.

All the other great branches of industry in Britain furnish like examples of energetic men of business, the source of much benefit to the neighborhoods in which they have labored, and of increased power and wealth to the community at large.  Amongst such might be cited the Strutts of Belper; the Tennants of Glasgow; the Marshalls and Gotts of Leeds; the Peels, Ashworths, Birleys, Fieldens, Ashtons, Heywoods, and Ainsworths of South Lancashire, some of whose descendants have since become distinguished in connection with the political history of England.  Such pre-eminently were the Peels of South Lancashire.

The founder of the Peel family, about the middle of last century, was a small yeoman, occupying the Hole House Farm, near Blackburn, from which he afterwards removed to a house situated in Fish Lane in that town.  Robert Peel, as he advanced in life, saw a large family of sons and daughters growing up about him; but the land about Blackburn being somewhat barren, it did not appear to him that agricultural pursuits offered a very encouraging prospect for their industry.  The place had, however, long been the seat of a domestic manufacture—the fabric called “Blackburn greys,” consisting of linen weft and cotton warp, being chiefly made in that town and its neighborhood.  It was then customary—previous to the introduction of the factory system—for industrious yeomen with families to employ the time not occupied in the fields in weaving at home; and Robert Peel accordingly began the domestic trade of calico-making.  He was honest, and made an honest article; thrifty and hardworking, and his trade prospered.  He was also enterprising, and was one of the first to adopt the carding cylinder, then recently invented.

But Robert Peel’s attention was principally directed to the PRINTING of calico—then a comparatively unknown art—and for some time he carried on a series of experiments with the object of printing by machinery.  The experiments were secretly conducted in his own house, the cloth being ironed for the purpose by one of the women of the family.  It was then customary, in such houses as the Peels, to use pewter plates at dinner.  Having sketched a figure or pattern on one of the plates, the thought struck him that an impression might be got from it in reverse, and printed on calico with color.  In a cottage at the end of the farm-house lived a woman who kept a calendering machine, and going into her cottage, he put the plate with color rubbed into the figured part and some calico over it, through the machine, when it was found to leave a satisfactory impression.  Such is said to have been the origin of roller printing on calico.  Robert Peel shortly perfected his process, and the first pattern he brought out was a parsley leaf; hence he is spoken of in the neighborhood of Blackburn to this day as “Parsley Peel.”  The process of calico printing by what is called the mule machine—that is, by means of a wooden cylinder in relief, with an engraved copper cylinder—was afterwards brought to perfection by one of his sons, the head of the firm of Messrs. Peel and Co., of Church.  Stimulated by his success, Robert Peel shortly gave up farming, and removing to Brookside, a village about two miles from Blackburn, he devoted himself exclusively to the printing business.  There, with the aid of his sons, who were as energetic as himself, he successfully carried on the trade for several years; and as the young men grew up towards manhood, the concern branched out into various firms of Peels, each of which became a centre of industrial activity and a source of remunerative employment to large numbers of people.

From what can now be learnt of the character of the original and untitled Robert Peel, he must have been a remarkable man—shrewd, sagacious, and far-seeing.  But little is known of him excepting from traditions and the sons of those who knew him are fast passing away.  His son, Sir Robert, thus modestly spoke of him:- “My father may be truly said to have been the founder of our family; and he so accurately appreciated the importance of commercial wealth in a national point of view, that he was often heard to say that the gains to individuals were small compared with the national gains arising from trade.”

Sir Robert Peel, the first baronet and the second manufacturer of the name, inherited all his father’s enterprise, ability, and industry.  His position, at starting in life, was little above that of an ordinary working man; for his father, though laying the foundations of future prosperity, was still struggling with the difficulties arising from insufficient capital.  When Robert was only twenty years of age, he determined to begin the business of cotton-printing, which he had by this time learnt from his father, on his own account.  His uncle, James Haworth, and William Yates of Blackburn, joined him in his enterprise; the whole capital which they could raise amongst them amounting to only about 500l., the principal part of which was supplied by William Yates.  The father of the latter was a householder in Blackburn, where he was well known and much respected; and having saved money by his business, he was willing to advance sufficient to give his son a start in the lucrative trade of cotton-printing, then in its infancy.  Robert Peel, though comparatively a mere youth, supplied the practical knowledge of the business; but it was said of him, and proved true, that he “carried an old head on young shoulders.”  A ruined corn-mill, with its adjoining fields, was purchased for a comparatively small sum, near the then insignificant town of Bury, where the works long after continued to be known as “The Ground;” and a few wooden sheds having been run up, the firm commenced their cotton-printing business in a very humble way in the year 1770, adding to it that of cotton-spinning a few years later.  The frugal style in which the partners lived may be inferred from the following incident in their early career.  William Yates, being a married man with a family, commenced housekeeping on a small scale, and, to oblige Peel, who was single, he agreed to take him as a lodger.  The sum which the latter first paid for board and lodging was only 8s. a week; but Yates, considering this too little, insisted on the weekly payment being increased a shilling, to which Peel at first demurred, and a difference between the partners took place, which was eventually compromised by the lodger paying an advance of sixpence a week.  William Yates’s eldest child was a girl named Ellen, and she very soon became an especial favorite with the young lodger.  On returning from his hard day’s work at “The Ground,” he would take the little girl upon his knee, and say to her, “Nelly, thou bonny little dear, wilt be my wife?” to which the child would readily answer “Yes,” as any child would do.  “Then I’ll wait for thee, Nelly; I’ll wed thee, and none else.”  And Robert Peel did wait.  As the girl grew in beauty towards womanhood, his determination to wait for her was strengthened; and after the lapse of ten years—years of close application to business and rapidly increasing prosperity—Robert Peel married Ellen Yates when she had completed her seventeenth year; and the pretty child, whom her mother’s lodger and father’s partner had nursed upon his knee, became Mrs. Peel, and eventually Lady Peel, the mother of the future Prime Minister of England.  Lady Peel was a noble and beautiful woman, fitted to grace any station in life.  She possessed rare powers of mind, and was, on every emergency, the high-souled and faithful counselor of her husband.  For many years after their marriage, she acted as his amanuensis, conducting the principal part of his business correspondence, for Mr. Peel himself was an indifferent and almost unintelligible writer.  She died in 1803, only three years after the Baronetcy had been conferred upon her husband.  It is said that London fashionable life—so unlike what she had been accustomed to at home—proved injurious to her health; and old Mr. Yates afterwards used to say, “if Robert hadn’t made our Nelly a ‘Lady,’ she might ha’ been living yet.”

The career of Yates, Peel, & Co., was throughout one of great and uninterrupted prosperity.  Sir Robert Peel himself was the soul of the firm; to great energy and application uniting much practical sagacity, and first-rate mercantile abilities—qualities in which many of the early cotton-spinners were exceedingly deficient.  He was a man of iron mind and frame, and toiled unceasingly.  In short, he was to cotton printing what Arkwright was to cotton-spinning, and his success was equally great.  The excellence of the articles produced by the firm secured the command of the market, and the character of the firm stood pre-eminent in Lancashire.  Besides greatly benefiting Bury, the partnership planted similar extensive works in the neighborhood, on the Irwell and the Roch; and it was cited to their honor, that, while they sought to raise to the highest perfection the quality of their manufactures, they also endeavored, in all ways, to promote the well-being and comfort of their workpeople; for whom they contrived to provide remunerative employment even in the least prosperous times.

Sir Robert Peel readily appreciated the value of all new processes and inventions; in illustration of which we may allude to his adoption of the process for producing what is called RESIST WORK in calico printing.  This is accomplished by the use of a paste, or resist, on such parts of the cloth as were intended to remain white.  The person who discovered the paste was a traveler for a London house, who sold it to Mr. Peel for an inconsiderable sum.  It required the experience of a year or two to perfect the system and make it practically useful; but the beauty of its effect, and the extreme precision of outline in the pattern produced, at once placed the Bury establishment at the head of all the factories for calico printing in the country.  Other firms, conducted with like spirit, were established by members of the same family at Burnley, Foxhill bank, and Altham, in Lancashire; Salley Abbey, in Yorkshire; and afterwards at Burton-on-Trent, in Staffordshire; these various establishments, whilst they brought wealth to their proprietors, setting an example to the whole cotton trade, and training up many of the most successful printers and manufacturers in Lancashire.

Among other distinguished founders of industry, the Rev. William Lee, inventor of the Stocking Frame, and John Heathcoat, inventor of the Bobbin-net Machine, are worthy of notice, as men of great mechanical skill and perseverance, through whose labors a vast amount of remunerative employment has been provided for the laboring population of Nottingham and the adjacent districts.  The accounts which have been preserved of the circumstances connected with the invention of the Stocking Frame are very confused, and in many respects contradictory, though there is no doubt as to the name of the inventor.  This was William Lee, born at Woodborough, a village some seven miles from Nottingham, about the year 1563.  According to some accounts, he was the heir to a small freehold, while according to others he was a poor scholar, {6} and had to struggle with poverty from his earliest years.  He entered as a sizar at Christ College, Cambridge, in May, 1579, and subsequently removed to St. John’s, taking his degree of B.A. in 1582-3.  It is believed that he commenced M.A. in 1586; but on this point there appears to be some confusion in the records of the University.  The statement usually made that he was expelled for marrying contrary to the statutes, is incorrect, as he was never a Fellow of the University, and therefore could not be prejudiced by taking such a step.

At the time when Lee invented the Stocking Frame he was officiating as curate of Calverton, near Nottingham; and it is alleged by some writers that the invention had its origin in disappointed affection.  The curate is said to have fallen deeply in love with a young lady of the village, who failed to reciprocate his affections; and when he visited her, she was accustomed to pay much more attention to the process of knitting stockings and instructing her pupils in the art, than to the addresses of her admirer.  This slight is said to have created in his mind such an aversion to knitting by hand, that he formed the determination to invent a machine that should supersede it and render it a gainless employment.  For three years he devoted himself to the prosecution of the invention, sacrificing everything to his new idea.  At the prospect of success opened before him, he abandoned his curacy, and devoted himself to the art of stocking making by machinery.  This is the version of the story given by Henson on the authority of an old stocking-maker, who died in Collins’s Hospital, Nottingham, aged ninety-two, and was apprenticed in the town during the reign of Queen Anne.  It is also given by Deering and Blackner as the traditional account in the neighborhood, and it is in some measure borne out by the arms of the London Company of Frame-Work Knitters, which consists of a stocking frame without the wood-work, with a clergyman on one side and a woman on the other as supporters.

Whatever may have been the actual facts as to the origin of the invention of the Stocking Loom, there can be no doubt as to the extraordinary mechanical genius displayed by its inventor.  That a clergyman living in a remote village, whose life had for the most part been spent with books, should contrive a machine of such delicate and complicated movements, and at once advance the art of knitting from the tedious process of linking threads in a chain of loops by three skewers in the fingers of a woman, to the beautiful and rapid process of weaving by the stocking frame, was indeed an astonishing achievement, which may be pronounced almost unequalled in the history of mechanical invention.  Lee’s merit was all the greater, as the handicraft arts were then in their infancy, and little attention had as yet been given to the contrivance of machinery for the purposes of manufacture.  He was under the necessity of extemporizing the parts of his machine as he best could, and adopting various expedients to overcome difficulties as they arose.  His tools were imperfect, and his materials imperfect; and he had no skilled workmen to assist him.  According to tradition, the first frame he made was a twelve gauge, without lead sinkers, and it was almost wholly of wood; the needles being also stuck in bits of wood.  One of Lee’s principal difficulties consisted in the formation of the stitch, for want of needle eyes; but this he eventually overcame by forming eyes to the needles with a three-square file. {9}  At length, one difficulty after another was successfully overcome, and after three years’ labor the machine was sufficiently complete to be fit for use.  The quondam curate, full of enthusiasm for his art, now began stocking weaving in the village of Calverton, and he continued to work there for several years, instructing his brother James and several of his relations in the practice of the art.

Having brought his frame to a considerable degree of perfection, and being desirous of securing the patronage of Queen Elizabeth, whose partiality for knitted silk stockings was well known, Lee proceeded to London to exhibit the loom before her Majesty.  He first showed it to several members of the court, among others to Sir William (afterwards Lord) Hunsdon, whom he taught to work it with success; and Lee was, through their instrumentality, at length admitted to an interview with the Queen, and worked the machine in her presence.  Elizabeth, however, did not give him the encouragement that he had expected; and she is said to have opposed the invention on the ground that it was calculated to deprive a large number of poor people of their employment of hand knitting.  Lee was no more successful in finding other patrons, and considering himself and his invention treated with contempt, he embraced the offer made to him by Sully, the sagacious minister of Henry IV., to proceed to Rouen and instruct the operatives of that town—then one of the most important manufacturing centers of France—in the construction and use of the stocking-frame.  Lee accordingly transferred himself and his machines to France, in 1605, taking with him his brother and seven workmen.  He met with a cordial reception at Rouen, and was proceeding with the manufacture of stockings on a large scale—having nine of his frames in full work,--when unhappily ill fortune again overtook him.  Henry IV., his protector, on whom he had relied for the rewards, honors, and promised grant of privileges, which had induced Lee to settle in France, was murdered by the fanatic Ravaillac; and the encouragement and protection which had heretofore been extended to him were at once withdrawn.  To press his claims at court, Lee proceeded to Paris; but being a protestant as well as a foreigner, his representations were treated with neglect; and worn out with vexation and grief, this distinguished inventor shortly after died at Paris, in a state of extreme poverty and distress.

Lee’s brother, with seven of the workmen, succeeded in escaping from France with their frames, leaving two behind.  On James Lee’s return to Nottinghamshire, he was joined by one Ashton, a miller of Thoroton, who had been instructed in the art of frame-work knitting by the inventor himself before he left England.  These two, with the workmen and their frames, began the stocking manufacture at Thoroton, and carried it on with considerable success.  The place was favorably situated for the purpose, as the sheep pastured in the neighboring district of Sherwood yielded a kind of wool of the longest staple.  Ashton is said to have introduced the method of making the frames with lead sinkers, which was a great improvement.  The number of looms employed in different parts of England gradually increased; and the machine manufacture of stockings eventually became an important branch of the national industry.

One of the most important modifications in the Stocking-Frame was that which enabled it to be applied to the manufacture of lace on a large scale.  In 1777, two workmen, Frost and Holmes, were both engaged in making point-net by means of the modifications they had introduced in the stocking-frame; and in the course of about thirty years, so rapid was the growth of this branch of production that 1500 point-net frames were at work, giving employment to upwards of 15,000 people.  Owing, however, to the war, to change of fashion, and to other circumstances, the Nottingham lace manufacture rapidly fell off; and it continued in a decaying state until the invention of the Bobbin-net Machine by John Heathcoat, late M.P. for Tiverton, which had the effect of at once re-establishing the manufacture on solid foundations.

John Heathcoat was the youngest son of a respectable small farmer at Duffield, Derbyshire, where he was born in 1783.  When at school he made steady and rapid progress, but was early removed from it to be apprenticed to a frame-smith near Loughborough.  The boy soon learnt to handle tools with dexterity, and he acquired a minute knowledge of the parts of which the stocking-frame was composed, as well as of the more intricate warp-machine.  At his leisure he studied how to introduce improvements in them, and his friend, Mr.  Bazley, M.P., states that as early as the age of sixteen, he conceived the idea of inventing a machine by which lace might be made similar to Buckingham or French lace, then all made by hand.  The first practical improvement he succeeded in introducing was in the warp-frame, when, by means of an ingenious apparatus, he succeeded in producing “mitts” of a lacy appearance, and it was this success which determined him to pursue the study of mechanical lace-making.  The stocking-frame had already, in a modified form, been applied to the manufacture of point-net lace, in which the mesh was LOOPED as in a stocking, but the work was slight and frail, and therefore unsatisfactory.  Many ingenious Nottingham mechanics had, during a long succession of years, been laboring at the problem of inventing a machine by which the mesh of threads should be TWISTED round each other on the formation of the net.  Some of these men died in poverty, some were driven insane, and all alike failed in the object of their search.  The old warp-machine held its ground.

When a little over twenty-one years of age, Heathcoat went to Nottingham, where he readily found employment, for which he soon received the highest remuneration, as a setter-up of hosiery and warp-frames, and was much respected for his talent for invention, general intelligence, and the sound and sober principles that governed his conduct.  He also continued to pursue the subject on which his mind had before been occupied, and labored to compass the contrivance of a twist traverse-net machine.  He first studied the art of making the Buckingham or pillow-lace by hand, with the object of effecting the same motions by mechanical means.  It was a long and laborious task, requiring the exercise of great perseverance and ingenuity.  His master, Elliot, described him at that time as inventive, patient, self-denying, and taciturn, undaunted by failures and mistakes, full of resources and expedients, and entertaining the most perfect confidence that his application of mechanical principles would eventually be crowned with success.

It is difficult to describe in words an invention so complicated as the bobbin-net machine.  It was, indeed, a mechanical pillow for making lace, imitating in an ingenious manner the motions of the lace-maker’s fingers in intersecting or tying the meshes of the lace upon her pillow.  On analyzing the component parts of a piece of hand-made lace, Heathcoat was enabled to classify the threads into longitudinal and diagonal.  He began his experiments by fixing common pack-threads lengthwise on a sort of frame for the warp, and then passing the weft threads between them by common plyers, delivering them to other plyers on the opposite side; then, after giving them a sideways motion and twist, the threads were repassed back between the next adjoining cords, the meshes being thus tied in the same way as upon pillows by hand.  He had then to contrive a mechanism that should accomplish all these nice and delicate movements, and to do this cost him no small amount of mental toil.  Long after he said, “The single difficulty of getting the diagonal threads to twist in the allotted space was so great that if it had now to be done, I should probably not attempt its accomplishment.” His next step was to provide thin metallic discs, to be used as bobbins for conducting the threads backwards and forwards through the warp.  These discs, being arranged in carrier-frames placed on each side of the warp, were moved by suitable machinery so as to conduct the threads from side to side in forming the lace.  He eventually succeeded in working out his principle with extraordinary skill and success; and, at the age of twenty-four, he was enabled to secure his invention by a patent.

During this time his wife was kept in almost as great anxiety as himself, for she well knew of his trials and difficulties while he was striving to perfect his invention.  Many years after they had been successfully overcome, the conversation which took place one eventful evening was vividly remembered.  “Well,” said the anxious wife, “will it work?”  “No,” was the sad answer; “I have had to take it all to pieces again.”  Though he could still speak hopefully and cheerfully, his poor wife could restrain her feelings no longer, but sat down and cried bitterly.  She had, however, only a few more weeks to wait, for success long labored for and richly deserved, came at last, and a proud and happy man was John Heathcoat when he brought home the first narrow strip of bobbin-net made by his machine, and placed it in the hands of his wife.

As in the case of nearly all inventions which have proved productive, Heathcoat’s rights as a patentee were disputed, and his claims as an inventor called in question.  On the supposed invalidity of the patent, the lace-makers boldly adopted the bobbin-net machine, and set the inventor at defiance.  But other patents were taken out for alleged improvements and adaptations; and it was only when these new patentees fell out and went to law with each other that Heathcoat’s rights became established.  One lace-manufacturer having brought an action against another for an alleged infringement of his patent, the jury brought in a verdict for the defendant, in which the judge concurred, on the ground that BOTH the machines in question were infringements of Heathcoat’s patent.  It was on the occasion of this trial, “Boville v. Moore,” that Sir John Copley (afterwards Lord Lyndhurst), who was retained for the defense in the interest of Mr. Heathcoat, learnt to work the bobbin-net machine in order that he might master the details of the invention.  On reading over his brief, he confessed that he did not quite understand the merits of the case; but as it seemed to him to be one of great importance, he offered to go down into the country forthwith and study the machine until he understood it;

“and then,” said he, “I will defend you to the best of my ability.” He accordingly put himself into that night’s mail, and went down to Nottingham to get up his case as perhaps counsel never got it up before.  Next morning the learned sergeant placed himself in a lace-loom, and he did not leave it until he could deftly make a piece of bobbin-net with his own hands, and thoroughly understood the principle as well as the details of the machine.  When the case came on for trial, the learned sergeant was enabled to work the model on the table with such case and skill, and to explain the precise nature of the invention with such felicitous clearness, as to astonish alike judge, jury, and spectators; and the thorough conscientiousness and mastery with which he handled the case had no doubt its influence upon the decision of the court.

After the trial was over, Mr. Heathcoat, on inquiry, found about six hundred machines at work after his patent, and he proceeded to levy royalty upon the owners of them, which amounted to a large sum.  But the profits realized by the manufacturers of lace were very great, and the use of the machines rapidly extended; while the price of the article was reduced from five pounds the square yard to about five pence in the course of twenty-five years.  During the same period the average annual returns of the lace-trade have been at least four millions sterling, and it gives remunerative employment to about 150,000 workpeople.

To return to the personal history of Mr. Heathcoat.  In 1809 we find him established as a lace-manufacturer at Loughborough, in Leicestershire.  There he carried on a prosperous business for several years, giving employment to a large number of operatives, at wages varying from 5l. to 10l. a week.  Notwithstanding the great increase in the number of hands employed in lace-making through the introduction of the new machines, it began to be whispered about among the workpeople that they were superseding labor, and an extensive conspiracy was formed for the purpose of destroying them wherever found.  As early as the year 1811 disputes arose between the masters and men engaged in the stocking and lace trades in the south-western parts of Nottinghamshire and the adjacent parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, the result of which was the assembly of a mob at Sutton, in Ashfield, who proceeded in open day to break the stocking and lace-frames of the manufacturers.  Some of the ringleaders having been seized and punished, the disaffected learnt caution; but the destruction of the machines was nevertheless carried on secretly wherever a safe opportunity presented itself.  As the machines were of so delicate a construction that a single blow of a hammer rendered them useless, and as the manufacture was carried on for the most part in detached buildings, often in private dwellings remote from towns, the opportunities of destroying them were unusually easy.  In the neighborhood of Nottingham, which was the focus of turbulence, the machine-breakers organized themselves in regular bodies, and held nocturnal meetings at which their plans were arranged.  Probably with the view of inspiring confidence, they gave out that they were under the command of a leader named Ned Ludd, or General Ludd, and hence their designation of Luddites.  Under this organization machine-breaking was carried on with great vigor during the winter of 1811, occasioning great distress, and throwing large numbers of workpeople out of employment.  Meanwhile, the owners of the frames proceeded to remove them from the villages and lone dwellings in the country, and brought them into warehouses in the towns for their better protection.

LudditesThe Luddites seem to have been encouraged by the lenity of the sentences pronounced on such of their confederates as had been apprehended and tried; and, shortly after, the mania broke out afresh, and rapidly extended over the northern and midland manufacturing districts.  The organization became more secret; an oath was administered to the members binding them to obedience to the orders issued by the heads of the confederacy; and the betrayal of their designs was decreed to be death.  All machines were doomed by them to destruction, whether employed in the manufacture of cloth, calico, or lace; and a reign of terror began which lasted for years.  In Yorkshire and Lancashire mills were boldly attacked by armed rioters, and in many cases they were wrecked or burnt; so that it became necessary to guard them by soldiers and yeomanry.  The masters themselves were doomed to death; many of them were assaulted, and some were murdered.  At length the law was vigorously set in motion; numbers of the misguided Luddites were apprehended; some were executed; and after several years’ violent commotion from this cause, the machine-breaking riots were at length quelled.

Among the numerous manufacturers whose works were attacked by the Luddites, was the inventor of the bobbin-net machine himself.  One bright sunny day, in the summer of 1816, a body of rioters entered his factory at Loughborough with torches, and set fire to it, destroying thirty-seven lace-machines, and above 10,000l. worth of property.  Ten of the men were apprehended for the felony, and eight of them were executed.  Mr. Heathcoat made a claim upon the county for compensation, and it was resisted; but the Court of Queen’s Bench decided in his favor, and decreed that the county must make good his loss of 10,000l.  The magistrates sought to couple with the payment of the damage the condition that Mr.  Heathcoat should expend the money in the county of Leicester; but to this he would not assent, having already resolved on removing his manufacture elsewhere.  At Tiverton, in Devonshire, he found a large building which had been formerly used as a woolen manufactory; but the Tiverton cloth trade having fallen into decay, the building remained unoccupied, and the town itself was generally in a very poverty-stricken condition.  Mr. Heathcoat bought the old mill, renovated and enlarged it, and there recommenced the manufacture of lace upon a larger scale than before; keeping in full work as many as three hundred machines, and employing a large number of artisans at good wages.  Not only did he carry on the manufacture of lace, but the various branches of business connected with it—yarn-doubling, silk-spinning, net-making, and finishing.  He also established at Tiverton an iron-foundry and works for the manufacture of agricultural implements, which proved of great convenience to the district.  It was a favorite idea of his that steam power was capable of being applied to perform all the heavy drudgery of life, and he labored for a long time at the invention of a steam-plough.  In 1832 he so far completed his invention as to be enabled to take out a patent for it; and Heathcoat’s steam-plough, though it has since been superseded by Fowler’s, was considered the best machine of the kind that had up to that time been invented.

Mr. Heathcoat was a man of great natural gifts.  He possessed a sound understanding, quick perception, and a genius for business of the highest order.  With these he combined uprightness, honesty, and integrity—qualities which are the true glory of human character.  Himself a diligent self-educator, he gave ready encouragement to deserving youths in his employment, stimulating their talents and fostering their energies.  During his own busy life, he contrived to save time to master French and Italian, of which he acquired an accurate and grammatical knowledge.  His mind was largely stored with the results of a careful study of the best literature, and there were few subjects on which he had not formed for himself shrewd and accurate views.  The two thousand workpeople in his employment regarded him almost as a father, and he carefully provided for their comfort and improvement.  Prosperity did not spoil him, as it does so many; nor close his heart against the claims of the poor and struggling, who were always sure of his sympathy and help.  To provide for the education of the children of his workpeople, he built schools for them at a cost of about 6000l.  He was also a man of singularly cheerful and buoyant disposition, a favorite with men of all classes and most admired and beloved by those who knew him best.

In 1831 the electors of Tiverton, of which town Mr. Heathcoat had proved himself so genuine a benefactor, returned him to represent them in Parliament, and he continued their member for nearly thirty years.  During a great part of that time he had Lord Palmerston for his colleague, and the noble lord, on more than one public occasion, expressed the high regard which he entertained for his venerable friend.  On retiring from the representation in 1859, owing to advancing age and increasing infirmities, thirteen hundred of his workmen presented him with a silver inkstand and gold pen, in token of their esteem.  He enjoyed his leisure for only two more years, dying in January, 1861, at the age of seventy-seven, and leaving behind him a character for probity, virtue, manliness, and mechanical genius, of which his descendants may well be proud.

We next turn to a career of a very different kind, that of the illustrious but unfortunate Jacquard, whose life also illustrates in a remarkable manner the influence which ingenious men, even of the humblest rank, may exercise upon the industry of a nation.  Jacquard was the son of a hard-working couple of Lyons, his father being a weaver, and his mother a pattern reader.  They were too poor to give him any but the most meager education.  When he was of age to learn a trade, his father placed him with a book-binder.  An old clerk, who made up the master’s accounts, gave Jacquard some lessons in mathematics.  He very shortly began to display a remarkable turn for mechanics, and some of his contrivances quite astonished the old clerk, who advised Jacquard’s father to put him to some other trade, in which his peculiar abilities might have better scope than in bookbinding.  He was accordingly put apprentice to a cutler; but was so badly treated by his master, that he shortly afterwards left his employment, on which he was placed with a type-founder.

His parents dying, Jacquard found himself in a measure compelled to take to his father’s two looms, and carry on the trade of a weaver.  He immediately proceeded to improve the looms, and became so engrossed with his inventions that he forgot his work, and very soon found himself at the end of his means.  He then sold the looms to pay his debts, at the same time that he took upon himself the burden of supporting a wife.  He became still poorer, and to satisfy his creditors, he next sold his cottage.  He tried to find employment, but in vain, people believing him to be an idler, occupied with mere dreams about his inventions.  At length he obtained employment with a line-maker of Bresse, whither he went, his wife remaining at Lyons, earning a precarious living by making straw bonnets.

We hear nothing further of Jacquard for some years, but in the interval he seems to have prosecuted his improvement in the drawloom for the better manufacture of figured fabrics; for, in 1790, he brought out his contrivance for selecting the warp threads, which, when added to the loom, superseded the services of a draw-boy.  The adoption of this machine was slow but steady, and in ten years after its introduction, 4000 of them were found at work in Lyons.  Jacquard’s pursuits were rudely interrupted by the Revolution, and, in 1792, we find him fighting in the ranks of the Lyonnaise Volunteers against the Army of the Convention under the command of Dubois Crance.  The city was taken; Jacquard fled and joined the Army of the Rhine, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.  He might have remained a soldier, but that, his only son having been shot dead at his side, he deserted and returned to Lyons to recover his wife.  He found her in a garret still employed at her old trade of straw-bonnet making.  While living in concealment with her, his mind reverted to the inventions over which he had so long brooded in former years; but he had no means wherewith to prosecute them.  Jacquard found it necessary, however, to emerge from his hiding-place and try to find some employment.  He succeeded in obtaining it with an intelligent manufacturer, and while working by day he went on inventing by night.  It had occurred to him that great improvements might still be introduced in looms for figured goods, and he incidentally mentioned the subject one day to his master, regretting at the same time that his limited means prevented him from carrying out his ideas.  Happily his master appreciated the value of the suggestions, and with laudable generosity placed a sum of money at his disposal, that he might prosecute the proposed improvements at his leisure.

In three months Jacquard had invented a loom to substitute mechanical action for the irksome and toilsome labor of the workman.  The loom was exhibited at the Exposition of National Industry at Paris in 1801, and obtained a bronze medal.  Jacquard was further honored by a visit at Lyons from the Minister Carnot, who desired to congratulate him in person on the success of his invention.  In the following year the Society of Arts in London offered a prize for the invention of a machine for manufacturing fishing-nets and boarding-netting for ships.  Jacquard heard of this, and while walking one day in the fields according to his custom, he turned the subject over in his mind, and contrived the plan of a machine for the purpose.  His friend, the manufacturer, again furnished him with the means of carrying out his idea, and in three weeks Jacquard had completed his invention.

Jacquard’s achievement having come to the knowledge of the Prefect of the Department, he was summoned before that functionary, and, on his explanation of the working of the machine, a report on the subject was forwarded to the Emperor.  The inventor was forthwith summoned to Paris with his machine, and brought into the presence of the Emperor, who received him with the consideration due to his genius.  The interview lasted two hours, during which Jacquard, placed at his ease by the Emperor’s affability, explained to him the improvements which he proposed to make in the looms for weaving figured goods.  The result was, that he was provided with apartments in the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, where he had the use of the workshop during his stay, and was provided with a suitable allowance for his maintenance.

Installed in the Conservatoire, Jacquard proceeded to complete the details of his improved loom.  He had the advantage of minutely inspecting the various exquisite pieces of mechanism contained in that great treasury of human ingenuity.  Among the machines which more particularly attracted his attention, and eventually set him upon the track of his discovery, was a loom for weaving flowered silk, made by Vaucanson the celebrated automaton-maker.

Vaucanson was a man of the highest order of constructive genius.  The inventive faculty was so strong in him that it may almost be said to have amounted to a passion, and could not be restrained.  The saying that the poet is born, not made, applies with equal force to the inventor, who, though indebted, like the other, to culture and improved opportunities, nevertheless contrives and constructs new combinations of machinery mainly to gratify his own instinct.  This was peculiarly the case with Vaucanson; for his most elaborate works were not so much distinguished for their utility as for the curious ingenuity which they displayed.  While a mere boy attending Sunday conversations with his mother, he amused himself by watching, through the chinks of a partition wall, part of the movements of a clock in the adjoining apartment.  He endeavored to understand them, and by brooding over the subject, after several months he discovered the principle of the escapement.

From that time the subject of mechanical invention took complete possession of him.  With some rude tools which he contrived, he made a wooden clock that marked the hours with remarkable exactness; while he made for a miniature chapel the figures of some angels which waved their wings, and some priests that made several ecclesiastical movements.  With the view of executing some other automata he had designed, he proceeded to study anatomy, music, and mechanics, which occupied him for several years.  The sight of the Flute-player in the Gardens of the Tuileries inspired him with the resolution to invent a similar figure that should PLAY; and after several years’ study and labor, though struggling with illness, he succeeded in accomplishing his object.  He next produced a Flageolet-player, which was succeeded by a Duck—the most ingenious of his contrivances,--which swam, dabbled, drank, and quacked like a real duck.  He next invented an asp, employed in the tragedy of ‘Cleopatre,’ which hissed and darted at the bosom of the actress.

Vaucanson, however, did not confine himself merely to the making of automata.  By reason of his ingenuity, Cardinal de Fleury appointed him inspector of the silk manufactories of France; and he was no sooner in office, than with his usual irrepressible instinct to invent, he proceeded to introduce improvements in silk machinery.  One of these was his mill for thrown silk, which so excited the anger of the Lyons operatives, who feared the loss of employment through its means, that they pelted him with stones and had nearly killed him.  He nevertheless went on inventing, and next produced a machine for weaving flowered silks, with a contrivance for giving a dressing to the thread, so as to render that of each bobbin or skein of an equal thickness.

When Vaucanson died in 1782, after a long illness, he bequeathed his collection of machines to the Queen, who seems to have set but small value on them, and they were shortly after dispersed.  But his machine for weaving flowered silks was happily preserved in the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, and there Jacquard found it among the many curious and interesting articles in the collection.  It proved of the utmost value to him, for it immediately set him on the track of the principal modification which he introduced in his improved loom.

One of the chief features of Vaucanson’s machine was a pierced cylinder which, according to the holes it presented when revolved, regulated the movement of certain needles, and caused the threads of the warp to deviate in such a manner as to produce a given design, though only of a simple character.  Jacquard seized upon the suggestion with avidity, and, with the genius of the true inventor, at once proceeded to improve upon it.  At the end of a month his weaving-machine was completed.  To the cylinder of Vaucanson, he added an endless piece of pasteboard pierced with a number of holes, through which the threads of the warp were presented to the weaver; while another piece of mechanism indicated to the workman the colour of the shuttle which he ought to throw.  Thus the drawboy and the reader of designs were both at once superseded.  The first use Jacquard made of his new loom was to weave with it several yards of rich stuff which he presented to the Empress Josephine.  Napoleon was highly gratified with the result of the inventor’s labours, and ordered a number of the looms to be constructed by the best workmen, after Jacquard’s model, and presented to him; after which he returned to Lyons.

There he experienced the frequent fate of inventors.  He was regarded by his townsmen as an enemy, and treated by them as Kay, Hargreaves, and Arkwright had been in Lancashire.  The workmen looked upon the new loom as fatal to their trade, and feared lest it should at once take the bread from their mouths.  A tumultuous meeting was held on the Place des Terreaux, when it was determined to destroy the machines.  This was however prevented by the military.  But Jacquard was denounced and hanged in effigy.  The ‘Conseil des prud’hommes’ in vain endeavoured to allay the excitement, and they were themselves denounced.  At length, carried away by the popular impulse, the prud’hommes, most of whom had been workmen and sympathized with the class, had one of Jacquard’s looms carried off and publicly broken in pieces.  Riots followed, in one of which Jacquard was dragged along the quay by an infuriated mob intending to drown him, but he was rescued.

The great value of the Jacquard loom, however, could not be denied, and its success was only a question of time.  Jacquard was urged by some English silk manufacturers to pass over into England and settle there.  But notwithstanding the harsh and cruel treatment he had received at the hands of his townspeople, his patriotism was too strong to permit him to accept their offer.  The English manufacturers, however, adopted his loom.  Then it was, and only then, that Lyons, threatened to be beaten out of the field, adopted it with eagerness; and before long the Jacquard machine was employed in nearly all kinds of weaving.  The result proved that the fears of the workpeople had been entirely unfounded.  Instead of diminishing employment, the Jacquard loom increased it at least tenfold.  The number of persons occupied in the manufacture of figured goods in Lyons, was stated by M. Leon Faucher to have been 60,000 in 1833; and that number has since been considerably increased.

As for Jacquard himself, the rest of his life passed peacefully, excepting that the workpeople who dragged him along the quay to drown him were shortly after found eager to bear him in triumph along the same route in celebration of his birthday.  But his modesty would not permit him to take part in such a demonstration.  The Municipal Council of Lyons proposed to him that he should devote himself to improving his machine for the benefit of the local industry, to which Jacquard agreed in consideration of a moderate pension, the amount of which was fixed by himself.  After perfecting his invention accordingly, he retired at sixty to end his days at Oullins, his father’s native place.  It was there that he received, in 1820, the decoration of the Legion of Honour; and it was there that he died and was buried in 1834.  A statue was erected to his memory, but his relatives remained in poverty; and twenty years after his death, his two nieces were under the necessity of selling for a few hundred francs the gold medal bestowed upon their uncle by Louis XVIII.  “Such,” says a French writer, “was the gratitude of the manufacturing interests of Lyons to the man to whom it owes so large a portion of its splendour.”

It would be easy to extend the martyrology of inventors, and to cite the names of other equally distinguished men who have, without any corresponding advantage to themselves, contributed to the industrial progress of the age,--for it has too often happened that genius has planted the tree, of which patient dulness has gathered the fruit; but we will confine ourselves for the present to a brief account of an inventor of comparatively recent date, by way of illustration of the difficulties and privations which it is so frequently the lot of mechanical genius to surmount.  We allude to Joshua Heilmann, the inventor of the Combing Machine.

Heilmann was born in 1796 at Mulhouse, the principal seat of the Alsace cotton manufacture.  His father was engaged in that business; and Joshua entered his office at fifteen.  He remained there for two years, employing his spare time in mechanical drawing.  He afterwards spent two years in his uncle’s banking-house in Paris, prosecuting the study of mathematics in the evenings.  Some of his relatives having established a small cotton-spinning factory at Mulhouse, young Heilmann was placed with Messrs. Tissot and Rey, at Paris, to learn the practice of that firm.  At the same time he became a student at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, where he attended the lectures, and studied the machines in the museum.  He also took practical lessons in turning from a toymaker.  After some time, thus diligently occupied, he returned to Alsace, to superintend the construction of the machinery for the new factory at Vieux-Thann, which was shortly finished and set to work.  The operations of the manufactory were, however, seriously affected by a commercial crisis which occurred, and it passed into other hands, on which Heilmann returned to his family at Mulhouse.

He had in the mean time been occupying much of his leisure with inventions, more particularly in connection with the weaving of cotton and the preparation of the staple for spinning.  One of his earliest contrivances was an embroidering-machine, in which twenty needles were employed, working simultaneously; and he succeeded in accomplishing his object after about six months’ labour.  For this invention, which he exhibited at the Exposition of 1834, he received a gold medal, and was decorated with the Legion of Honour.  Other inventions quickly followed—an improved loom, a machine for measuring and folding fabrics, an improvement of the “bobbin and fly frames” of the English spinners, and a weft winding-machine, with various improvements in the machinery for preparing, spinning, and weaving silk and cotton.  One of his most ingenious contrivances was his loom for weaving simultaneously two pieces of velvet or other piled fabric, united by the pile common to both, with a knife and traversing apparatus for separating the two fabrics when woven.  But by far the most beautiful and ingenious of his inventions was the combing-machine, the history of which we now proceed shortly to describe.

Heilmann had for some years been diligently studying the contrivance of a machine for combing long-stapled cotton, the ordinary carding-machine being found ineffective in preparing the raw material for spinning, especially the finer sorts of yarn, besides causing considerable waste.  To avoid these imperfections, the cotton-spinners of Alsace offered a prize of 5000 francs for an improved combing-machine, and Heilmann immediately proceeded to compete for the reward.  He was not stimulated by the desire of gain, for he was comparatively rich, having acquired a considerable fortune by his wife.  It was a saying of his that “one will never accomplish great things who is constantly asking himself, how much gain will this bring me?”  What mainly impelled him was the irrepressible instinct of the inventor, who no sooner has a mechanical problem set before him than he feels impelled to undertake its solution.  The problem in this case was, however, much more difficult than he had anticipated.  The close study of the subject occupied him for several years, and the expenses in which he became involved in connection with it were so great, that his wife’s fortune was shortly swallowed up, and he was reduced to poverty, without being able to bring his machine to perfection.  From that time he was under the necessity of relying mainly on the help of his friends to enable him to prosecute the invention.

While still struggling with poverty and difficulties, Heilmann’s wife died, believing her husband ruined; and shortly after he proceeded to England and settled for a time at Manchester, still labouring at his machine.  He had a model made for him by the eminent machine-makers, Sharpe, Roberts, and Company; but still he could not make it work satisfactorily, and he was at length brought almost to the verge of despair.  He returned to France to visit his family, still pursuing his idea, which had obtained complete possession of his mind.  While sitting by his hearth one evening, meditating upon the hard fate of inventors and the misfortunes in which their families so often become involved, he found himself almost unconsciously watching his daughters coming their long hair and drawing it out at full length between their fingers.  The thought suddenly struck him that if he could successfully imitate in a machine the process of combing out the longest hair and forcing back the short by reversing the action of the comb, it might serve to extricate him from his difficulty.  It may be remembered that this incident in the life of Heilmann has been made the subject of a beautiful picture by Mr. Elmore, R.A., which was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1862.

Upon this idea he proceeded, introduced the apparently simple but really most intricate process of machine-combing, and after great labour he succeeded in perfecting the invention.  The singular beauty of the process can only be appreciated by those who have witnessed the machine at work, when the similarity of its movements to that of combing the hair, which suggested the invention, is at once apparent.  The machine has been described as “acting with almost the delicacy of touch of the human fingers.”  It combs the lock of cotton AT BOTH ENDS, places the fibres exactly parallel with each other, separates the long from the short, and unites the long fibres in one sliver and the short ones in another.  In fine, the machine not only acts with the delicate accuracy of the human fingers, but apparently with the delicate intelligence of the human mind.

The chief commercial value of the invention consisted in its rendering the commoner sorts of cotton available for fine spinning.  The manufacturers were thereby enabled to select the most suitable fibres for high-priced fabrics, and to produce the finer sorts of yarn in much larger quantities.  It became possible by its means to make thread so fine that a length of 334 miles might be spun from a single pound weight of the prepared cotton, and, worked up into the finer sorts of lace, the original shilling’s worth of cotton-wool, before it passed into the hands of the consumer, might thus be increased to the value of between 300l. and 400l. sterling.

The beauty and utility of Heilmann’s invention were at once appreciated by the English cotton-spinners.  Six Lancashire firms united and purchased the patent for cotton-spinning for England for the sum of 30,000l; the wool-spinners paid the same sum for the privilege of applying the process to wool; and the Messrs.  Marshall, of Leeds, 20,000l. for the privilege of applying it to flax.  Thus wealth suddenly flowed in upon poor Heilmann at last.  But he did not live to enjoy it.  Scarcely had his long labors been crowned by success than he died, and his son, who had shared in his privations, shortly followed him.

It is at the price of lives such as these that the wonders of civilization are achieved.



Original text by Samuel Smiles, edited and revised by D J McAdam © 2006.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.


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